Velodyne LiDAR, a leading supplier of the sensors and laser-based guidance systems at the heart of autonomous vehicles, has cut the price of its latest product in half to about $4,000, in a step that takes the technology closer to broader commercial use.
The price cut applies to the company's VLP-16 puck, which sits atop a vehicle and detects its surrounding environment with a laser that spins 360 degrees several times per second. Lidar is an acronym for light detection and ranging.
Scientists have been using lasers to measure distances since the 1960s, when a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology measured the distance to the moon by bouncing laser light off of it.
The problem is the system's cost, which ranges from Velodyne's new $4,000 puck to about $85,000 for a more sophisticated system. Essentially the technology is the brain of an autonomous car and its most expensive component.
As with most new technology, the more frequently it is deployed the faster the cost falls.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra laid out plans in November to launch fleets of self-driving taxis in multiple large cities by 2019.
Ford and Baidu, the Chinese search-engine leader, announced a $150 million investment in Velodyne last August, the same day Ford said it intended to develop a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021.
Ford said it invested in Velodyne after working with the company for years.
Another company, Quanergy Systems., already sells a $4,000 lidar system and has predicted that it will get that cost below $100 in the next three to four years.
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